Venezuela: PSUV acts to provide food and housing for all

In the recent 26 September National Assembly elections, Chavez’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) won 96 seats; the opposition’s United Democratic Roundtable coalition (MUD) won 63 seats, leaving the PSUV short of the two-thirds majority needed to pass new laws. However, the PSUV still gained seats over the opposition compared to the 2000 elections which, due to its boycott of the 2005 elections, were the last in which the opposition participated. During the 2001-2005 term, the Movement for the Fifth Republic became the PSUV and various splits and mergers resulted. Throughout these years, pro-Chavez parties held between 83 and 92 seats at any given time, while opposition parties held between 73 and 82 seats. Therefore, in comparison to the last elections they participated in, the opposition lost around 20 seats, whilst the PSUV gained seats.

 

Revolutionaries in the National Assembly now have a window in which to pass nationalisations, land reforms and labour laws before the new National Assembly is inaugurated in January 2011. On 3 October, pushing forward land reforms and expropriations, Chavez announced the nationalisation of land controlled by the Compania Inglesa, the Venezuelan arm of the British Vestey Group Ltd. This will entail the expropriation of 300,000 hectares of Vestey-owned land, whose chairman Lord Vestey (close friend of the royal family) has an estimated £750 million. On the same weekend Fertinitro (fertilizers) and Agrosilena (agricultural supplies) were expropriated, followed by chemical and lubricant company Veneco, nationalised on 10 October. Spanish-owned Agrosilena served 70% of Venezuela’s producers and Veneco accounts for 85% of the grease and 16% of the oil lubricant markets.

These nationalisations are intended to guarantee access to food, reduce dependence on food imports and lower inflation. The nationalisation of Fertinitro, Agrosilena and Veneco gives the state more control over secondary production. In this case, this means both controlling the production and distribution of key agricultural supplies required to turn expropriated idle land into productive agricultural land and promoting the development of domestic industries based on Venezuela’s nationalised oil and petroleum reserves, thereby reducing dependency on oil exports.

Food production has risen as a result of the Chavez government’s increase in financing to the agricultural sector from less than half a billion bolivars in 1998 to 20 billion bolivars in 2009. Malnutrition has been reduced from 21% to 6% in the same period.

The struggle for housing

Key interventions in the housing sector have been pursued, including the expropriation of six housing construction projects; the temporary occupation of eight housing projects (to be handed over to residents who have been the victims of real-estate fraud) and government agencies monitoring another 19 private housing developments. The focus on housing follows pressure from tenants’ movements, including the National Tenants Front, demanding an end to evictions by private landowners, and laws enabling tenants to purchase homes after renting them for a given period of time. Venezuela has a housing shortage of approximately three million homes.

Recent nationalisations have focused on key industries in housing construction. On 31 October Siderúrgica del Turbio (Sidetur) was expropriated. Sidetur is responsible for 40% of Venezuela’s steel rod production and is a major construction supplier. Its nationalisation will complement the Plan Guayana Socialista, joining other publicly-owned firms in the basic industries, including Siderúrgica del Orinoco (Sidor was nationalised in 2009), Industria Venezolana de Aluminio (Venalum), and Aluminio del Caroní (Alcasa). 87% of steel reinforcing bar production is in state hands.

The Plan Guayana Socialista was launched by Chavez in 2009. Through this plan, the government seeks to play the largest role in the aluminium, iron and steel industries. A key part of the plan is establishing workers’ control of production within a national production plan. As Rada Gumuluch, president of the Venezuelan Aluminium Industry (Venalum) advocates, ‘We are moving towards a social, collective, indirect form of property…The state will administer the industry, but the workers are the fundamental actors, in association with society.’

The future of Plan Guayana Socialista may depend on passing labour legislation, which has been considered in the National Assembly for over two years. On 9 November the National Workers’ Union (UNT) organised a 5,000-strong rally to demand the new Labour Law be passed before the new National Assembly is inaugurated. The proposed Labour Law would recognise workers’ councils and set out a legal framework for them. These workers’ councils currently have no legal status, impeding their ability to secure collective contracts and participation in nationalisations. The law would also reduce the legal working day from eight to six hours, allowing paid time for workers’ councils and political education, and the law abolishes pay and benefit distinctions between workers and those who are considered sub-contracted temporary or casual workers.

In 11 years, the Chavez government has nationalised over 347 companies in electricity, banking, cement, steel, oil and food. It has increased the state’s share of the banking system to approximately 25%, redistributed 2.5 million hectares of idle privately and publicly held land to producers’ cooperatives and state farms, and nationalised dozens of food processing companies. Regulations, nationalisations and planned economic production to meet the needs of the population are priorities of the Bolivarian Revolution as it moves to secure the progression towards socialism.

Sam McGill

FRFI 218 December 2010/January 2011

 

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